9 Investigates

Former Osceola County commissioner no longer has ‘special deputy’ designation

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Just as the news came in that Gov. Ron DeSantis will not appoint someone to serve as Osceola County commissioner in place of Fred Hawkins, 9 Investigates has learned he no longer has the special deputy designation that provided him the badge he’s seen using on video, which led to his arrest on charges of impersonating an officer.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray surveyed all of Central Florida’s sheriff’s offices, and found only three have an honorary or special deputy program. They all make it clear the badge given out is honorary and carries no law enforcement power.

Eyewitness News requested an interview with Sheriff Russ Gibson about the program, but he was unavailable.

READ: Gov. DeSantis suspends Osceola County commissioner accused of impersonating law enforcement officer

Hawkins was seen on camera flashing a badge and saying he was with the sheriff during a Turnberry Reserve HOA election back in November. The meeting was contentious, following a series of 9 Investigates reports about the HOA’s property manager and her ex-cop-turned-felon boyfriend who was seen running security inside the neighborhood. Both Sherry Raposo and Joseph Conover are facing charges related to running an unlicensed security firm.

“My first reaction [when I saw the video] was, this is a big problem with these types of special badges, that sheriffs often give out in Florida,” certified law enforcement expert Chuck Drago said.

According to the Osceola Sheriff’s policy, special deputies are volunteers who are civilian representatives of the community, able to assist the Sheriff in preserving law and order, who may be called for assistance in the event of any threatened or actual natural disaster, major tragedy, or situations designated by the Sheriff or designee. However, the policy clearly states there are no powers of arrest.

“Very often they’re considered a courtesy badge, and people will use them to flash at an officer or deputy when they get pulled over, or when they want a special privilege, as it appeared to be in this case,” Drago said.

Osceola is one of just three sheriff’s offices in Central Florida with a program like this. Seminole County has 33 ‘Honorary Deputies’ who all signed an oath acknowledging the title comes with no real power. Orange County gives out honorary badges on occasion, but the program is so unofficial, the agency doesn’t keep a list of who has them.

Drago says to the untrained eye, a badge is a badge.

“It does fool people, we know it does fool people, and there are cases we know of that people who possess them believe they will fool people,” Drago said.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.

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